India is the home of yoga. People come from all over the world to study yoga here. You can’t throw a scented candle in this city without hitting an ashram or yoga center. And yet … I just couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the mutant yoga in the States: Anusara, Yin, Slow Flow … with the hip music, clean props and blankets, gentle voices, supportive comments and eucalyptus-scented cream rubbed on my temples during savasana. I thought I would appreciate frills-free get-back-to-the-roots yoga, but apparently I like frills.
First, I enrolled in a Bikram Yoga class taught by an American instructor two evenings a week at school. I had tried Bikram before and couldn’t cope with the nonstop instructions (which I think is intentional to maintain the correct flow and timing of postures), but I figured it was better than nothing. After just a couple weeks, I bailed. The talking still annoyed me, but even more un-doable were the long days. Delhi’s heavy traffic precludes heading home after school when you know you have to return a few hours later, so I would just stay and work or socialize until 6:30 p.m. when yoga started and then get home around 8 p.m. Exhausting.
Tony and I then tried Active Yoga, which has branches all over Delhi. We were optimistic when we realized one branch was just a block from our house in the basement of an apartment building. When we entered the studio, the instructor immediately accosted us to buy a membership, but we insisted on trying a class first. He told us to set aside our yoga mats. Instead, padded mats were provided for the class, which included marching back and forth (two steps each way … weird), getting into a pose and then bouncing, running in place, and lots of push-ups. We did end in savasana, “corpse pose,” but the instructor yelled at us the whole time.
Next, I tried yoga after school with a teacher who trained in the Sivananda tradition. It was fine, but … meh … I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to return.
For awhile, two girlfriends and I practiced yoga with a popular teacher, Raju, on Sunday mornings. Quite a character, she focused extensively on breathing and getting us to activate our “urinary muscle.” It was the best instruction I’ve ever had in “mula bandha,” a fundamental technique. However, I longed for a yoga practice with a little more emphasis on the asanas, eager to stretch out my entire body.
Finally, a friend from water aerobics said, “I have a great yoga teacher.”
(a) Yes, I go to water aerobics. That’s another story.
(b) I didn’t really believe her.
Fortunately, my friend had more perseverance than I do and arranged for me to attend her private class. I met Rita, a lovely gentle woman who teaches in her tiny basement space with room for only six mats. She did the whole practice with us, unlike Stateside yoga, where teachers often roam the room while giving instructions. She also counted off every movement. “Inhale one, exhale one.” The practice felt a bit calisthenic, different from what I thought I wanted, but not in a bad way. My joints felt looser, my muscles longer, my mind calmer. At the end of the class, we all sat together and enjoyed hot tea and homemade cookies. Again, not a typical experience in Michigan.
Rita told us that she had wanted to remodel and expand her studio, but she was discouraged by none other than the Dalai Lama himself. Some of her students were U.S. diplomats hosting the Buddhist spiritual leader, so they brought him to her studio to practice yoga. “He sat here and prayed, although I couldn’t understand his language,” she said. “Afterwards, he told me to take down all the mirrors and posters. He said I shouldn’t knock down the wall because it was a healing place.” Strangely, it really does feel like a healing place with a soothing energy.
Since returning to India, Tony has also craved yoga, so I invited him to join me at a class with Rita. The two of us and an Israeli lady named Yanna practiced with Rita Saturday morning. Tony had to change spots several times or risk smacking a sconce or whacking his hands in the ceiling fan at the start of a sun salutation. However, when we headed back out into the steamy Delhi air, he said, “That was probably my favorite yoga class of all time.” Maybe because of the cookies.
It takes about 15 minutes by car to reach Rita’s home early on a Saturday, but we live on either end of the Aravalli Biodiversity Park path, so we may start walking the 2.5 kilometers through real nature (!) to reach our class each week.
When I think back to summer in Michigan with all the trails and clean air and Americanized yoga that we love so much, I realize how big this void has been in our Delhi lives. I have made a commitment to finding more balance in my life this school year, and I think Rita may just help me do that.